An elementary school teacher distributed sheets of plain paper and colored crayons to her class, asking the children to draw whatever they wanted. Knowing children are creative, she was curious about what they would draw.
She approached a little girl and asked, “What are you drawing?” “A picture of God,” she said confidently. “Oh, no. You can’t draw a picture of God.” She asked, “Why?” “Because no one has ever seen God, and no one knows what God looks like.”
The little girl replied matter-of-factly, “Well, they WILL know what God looks like after I finish.” (End of story.)
At a glance, we think children are funny, naive, and ignorant. However, have you ever wondered if the other way around may be more accurate on certain subjects? Children may be much closer to God than adults are.
Some might think it’s because they have been taught about God, but evidence shows that even children born of atheist parents have some concept of God.
The child prodigy Akiane Kramarik is a good example. I know many of you have heard about her in the news.
If children don’t have the innate capacity to know God, they won’t understand even if you teach them about God. Sunday School teachers would be frustrated.
It seems we lose that spiritual acuity as we grow up. It reminds me of Thomas Hood’s famous poem, “I Remember, I Remember.” The last stanza speaks to me profoundly,
I remember, I remember,
The fir trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky:
It was a childish ignorance,
But now ’tis little joy
To know I’m farther off from heav’n
Than when I was a boy.
(Thomas Hood, I Remember, I Remember).
Maybe Thomas Hood is right; the older we grow, the further we are from heaven. We all want to grow up and become more mature, but in the process, we lose what matters most to us—our keenness to God.
The question is, can we rekindle that capacity to know God? What does it take to see God again? Jesus has an answer for us,
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:3).
He says you must “change” and “become.” Isn’t it ironic that after all these years on earth striving to become adults, Jesus wants us to turn around and become children?
The outcome is entering the kingdom of heaven, the place of ultimate joy and happiness. If becoming children is what it takes to enter the kingdom of heaven and see the face of God, I believe it’s worth it.
Today is the last day of 2023 and also the last Sunday of the year. Most of you may already have your New Year’s resolution. As for me, I resolve to become like children. Would you join me?
We don’t know what 2024 will bring. It’s a critical year. Do you know that 64 countries worldwide will have elections in 2024, including the United States, Taiwan, Russia, and the European Union? Half of the world population will head to the polls in 2024.
There has never been a year like this before. There’s a lot of uncertainty ahead of us, but there’s one certainty that we all know. As Paul said,
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Ro 8:31b).
2024 is uncharted water, and the world will be confused by the storms of news that constantly preach uncertainty. But nothing can confuse us if we walk closely with God, the Rock of Ages.
So, today, we will explore how wise people see God in times of chaos based on Jesus’ baby dedication ceremony and learn how to see the presence of God ourselves. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today, the First Sunday After Christmas, also known as the Sunday of the Holy Family, is from the Gospel According to Luke 2:22-40. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.
38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. (Lk 2:22–40).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
The story begins like this,
“When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (Lk 2:22).
Forty days after giving birth, mothers had to go to the temple for a ritual of purification. At the same time, a firstborn child must also be presented for a child dedication ceremony. Luke said,
“and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’” (Lk 2:24).
Their offering indicates that they were poor. According to the Mosaic law, a sacrifice of a lamb is required for this ceremony, but people with low incomes could offer doves and pigeons.
The ceremony might be small but the experience was significant for the parents. The highlight of the day was that two strangers visited the Holy Family, recognizing the baby as the Messiah. One is a man named Simeon, and the other is a woman prophet named Anna.
I am always curious about how people can know God without proof. Many people believed in Christ after seeing what Jesus had done, but some people, like Simeon and Anna, recognized Christ before Jesus had done anything.
Jesus had yet to perform any miracles. The offering of two pigeons or doves reveals nothing impressive about the Holy Family. Yet, these two strangers knew who Jesus was and what he came for. That’s the kind of spiritual acuity we want to have.
That’s what we see in children—the innate quality to know the divine. Simeon and Anna are examples of adults who have maintained the spiritual acuity of children. What’s their secret?
The first century in Israel was a time of chaos. Despite the chaos, Simeon and Anna saw God’s plan for Israel and the world. Don’t you want to see what God is doing despite the chaotic world before us?
Many end-time prophets on the net and in the news tell us what will happen. I listen to them with a grain of salt. I prefer to get direct revelation from God because Jesus promised to give us the Holy Spirit to instruct us from within so we don’t have to listen to the false prophets.
That’s how Simeon and Anna recognize the Messiah. The Bible says,
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” (Lk 2:25).
Here, it reveals that the Holy Spirit is the key to the kingdom. The Holy Spirit brought Simeon to the baby Jesus and opened his eyes to see the Messiah in him. Even before this event, the Holy Spirit had talked to Simeon.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Lk 2:26).
See, the Holy Spirit even revealed to him when he would die. Now, he was ready to rest in peace since he had the blessing of seeing the Messiah.
Confucius also said something similar, “If I knew the Dao in the morning, I would be fine to die that evening.” Since the Dao means God, according to John, it means “If I knew God in the morning, I am happy to die in the evening.” (朝闻道，夕死可矣.) Great minds think alike! But he lived 500 years before Christ.
Every Christian communicates directly with God through the Holy Spirit unless something prevents us from this capacity.
Let’s look at the qualities of Simeon and Anna so that we may learn what prepared them for the revelations of the Holy Spirit.
“This man (Simeon) was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” (Lk 2:25).
Matthew reveals three qualities in Simeon. He was righteous, devout, and looking forward to the consolation of Israel. Don’t be intimidated by the word “righteous,” thinking it’s too high a goal to achieve. Since we know no one is perfect, how can we be righteous?
According to Jesus, righteousness is loving God and loving people, nothing more and nothing less. For us on this side of the cross, righteousness is a gift from God through Christ. If you confess your sins, you are forgiven through Christ, and you are righteous with the ability to love God and love people.
The second quality is “devout.” This word is translated from Greek, “εὐλαβής” (eulabés), meaning “pious” or “revering to God.” Simply put, Simeon loved God with all his heart, mind, and soul.
The third quality is “looking forward to the consolation of Israel.” It means he looked forward to relief from the suffering the people of Israel, as well as the world, had been enduring. It means he cared about people. He loved people as he loved himself. He wanted them to be saved.
This quality also represents how people in the Old Testament received salvation. They were saved by looking forward to the Messiah, just as we are saved by looking backward to the Messiah who came two thousand years ago. The cross is at the center of salvation for those before the cross and after the cross. Just as the birth of Christ divided human history into two parts: BC and AD (BCE and CE.)
Another important meaning of “looking forward” is that we usually see what we expect to see. In neuroscience, it is called the Reticular Activation System (RAS). Our eyes tend to scan the surroundings and see what we “look forward” to seeing and ignore what we don’t “look forward” to seeing.
Let’s say you want to buy a Toyota Prius. All of a sudden, you see many Prius on the roads, thinking, “Wow, Prius is very popular now.” In fact, they have been on the road all the time. You didn’t see them previously because you didn’t “look forward” to seeing them previously.
Our minds are generally lazy and would rather not bother to see items that are not important to us. If God is important to you, you will see the divine presence. I’m not talking about illusions but rational revelations.
“Looking forward” also represents “hope.” Hope is a quality of faith. The Holy Spirit reveals God’s presence to people with hope. Out of hundreds of people at the temple that day, only Simeon and Anna saw Jesus because they looked forward to it.
These three qualities of Simeon invoke the Holy Spirit for a feast of vision.
Let’s see how Anna’s way of life brought her to see God.
“Then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Lk 2:37).
When Luke talked about Simeon, he mentioned the character qualities. From Anna, we see three lifestyle practices that produce those qualities: worship, fasting, and prayer. Most of us worship and pray, but fasting is a lost art. Jesus also mentioned that our power to overcome evil comes from fasting and prayer.
Let’s bring it to our days. Jesus is not here physically; how do we see God? According to Jesus, we see him in the Bible. Jesus said,
“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.” (Jn 5:39).
Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, who study the Bible diligently, looking for the benefit of eternal life. But Jesus said the Bible testifies on his behalf.
Why didn’t the Pharisees study the Bible and fail to know God? Today, we also have scholars, professors, and even pastors who teach the Bible but don’t know God. Why?
The answer is that we need the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s presence to us.
Simeon and Anna show us six elements to invoke the Holy Spirit: righteousness, devotion, hope, worship, fasting, and prayer.
But, let me make it simpler: all these practices are covered in the Great Commandments: love God and love people, nothing more and nothing less.
When we do that, Jesus promises the presence of the Holy Spirit, revealing God’s presence through the Scriptures and nature. Then, we don’t have to worry about anything in 2024 and beyond. After all, Jesus’ nickname is Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us!” Let’s do whatever it takes to receive him!
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.